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What Does a Yellow Traffic Light Really Mean?

Topics: Lifestyle & Culture | Add A CommentBy admin | January 5, 2013

When you approach a yellow light, do you slow down, or put the pedal to the metal?

When I was in kindergarten, Miss Luftkopf said a few things to me with great regularity, presumably because I was an ignorant five year old with a poor attention span. One was of course “you’re a GOOD helper Ian”. But one that stuck with me long after I learned that helping the teacher made the bully beat up and call you “teacher’s pet” was “Red means stop! Yellow means slow! Green means GO!” I don’t recall exactly when that middle part changed, but as far as I can tell, yellow now means “Gun it you idjit! I gotz places to BE”. I was reminded of this recently when I read that China is changing traffic laws so that a yellow light is now – for all practical purposes – the same thing as a red light. They appear to be reacting to the same problem that has evolved over time here in the states, but predictably, their “solution” is resulting in all sorts of fender benders and additional ticketing. The absurdity of this approach of course reminded me of the Simpson’s episode from season ten called “They Saved Lisa’s Brain” (see below) in which Professor Frink says “We studied the traffic patterns and found that drivers move the fastest through yellow lights. So now, we just have the red and yellow lights!”

Oddly, Professor Fink’s solution wasn’t too far from reality; although there has been a tremendous amount of sophisticated research dedicated to the timing of the yellow light, it has mostly been implemented to increase ticket revenues, not improve safety. I personally find that last bit to be quite telling. I mean, I really believe that this is not just a traffic phenomena, but a profound metaphor for our cultural ills. And I actually DO recall when that change I mentioned at the top occurred; it was during the era when the “me decade” 70′s slowly mutated into the “greed is good” 80′s, when the slithery Gordon Gekko character in Wall Street somehow suddenly became the American male’s idea of a hero figure. It probably doesn’t matter at this point how a yellow traffic light is timed, our culture pervasively sees it as meaning “accelerate”. Or does it?

What do YOU do when you approach a yellow light?

For the record, the change must have occurred not too long after the movie Starman was made: